Forte Martini Bar and Restaurant

Don't call Joshua Liberman a "bartender." Even "mixologist" is too lame a term for the guy who's been putting together the drinks at Forte — potent mixers made from eccentric liquors, seasonal fruits, and surreal decorative elements. He's the "wizard of wet," "prince of the pie-eyed," "most exalted expert of the inebriated." It just can't get any better than this: Getting your drunk on while stimulating your addled intelligence and simultaneously feeling smug about your slow-foodish environmental correctness. Liberman's list of libations changes constantly, so the glassful of bliss that once made you swear allegiance will be history by the time you're reading this. But over the months, he's concocted sweet and smoky old-fashioneds made with bacon-infused Jack Daniels and maple syrup, elderflower gimlets of Hendrick's gin and floating nasturtium blossoms or, alternately, pea shoots grown on local farms, bittersweet Florida blood orange negronis, and a lemon drop made with limoncello and Japanese yuzu. What's more, this busy bar is bathed in flattering pink light, so even when you're thoroughly schnockered, you'll still look as pretty as the cocktail you're quaffing.

Swank Farms
Darrin and Jodi Swank
have been doing for vegetables what Isaac Mizrahi did for high fashion when he partnered with Target: making great taste accessible to us all. This young couple, who decided to become farmers practically on a whim, produce hydroponic greens and vegetables on their Loxahatchee farm almost single-handedly — gorgeous produce that's earned the loyalty of South Florida's most esteemed chefs. Who showcases Swank produce on gold-rimmed porcelain? Zach Bell at Cafe Boulud, Darryl Moiles of the Four Seasons Palm Beach, Leonardo Cuomo of Buonasera, and Patrick Broadhead at Max's Grille, just for beginners. But there's good news for home cooks too: From fall to spring, the Swanks haul in their swanky veggies and set up at the West Palm Beach GreenMarket. No salad should ever be Swank-free: Try curling, bright green pea shoots, tender mache, mixed baby greens still attached to their little roots (so they last forever in the fridge), multicolored sweet peppers, super-scrumptious eggplants, and edible nasturtiums or marigold. Beginning this year, the Swanks are offering produce boxes by subscription to a limited number of vege-files. Call them to sign up.

Zed451

Maybe you have a weakness for guitar players. Or gangsters. Or celebrity chefs. But contemplating architect Chris Smith's design for Zed451 might just get you hooked on dudes who do singular things with vaulted ceilings, glass panels, and reflecting pools — for here is a space so full of magic and mystery that it's calculated to make any girl go "oooooh." The décor of this Boca outpost of Zed's Chicago-based chain — where one fixed price buys you a steady stream of meats, fish, and multiple trips to a central "harvest table" — is varied enough to yield multiple surprises. The rectangular central bar is neither indoors nor out but set in a nebulous limbo, so patrons sipping martinis on either side can contemplate how the other half plays. Opt for en plein air and you'll find yourself on a patio where a continuous, raised waterway recedes in the distance, banquettes snuggled alongside. Inside, every table occupies a corner of intimacy and repose with 360-degree views — warm colors, soft pillows, and cunningly arranged screens. A transparent wine room provides the illusion of a wall without the solidity. It's as if the designers have grasped exactly what makes us tick. As much as we might cherish our privacy or want to burrow away like a clutch of hamsters, we human beings are nosy, curious beasts, voyeurs with a hungry eye. Once we tear ourselves away from the salad bar, we can't stand to miss a trick.

China Grill

Rich, salty, sweet, hot — and we're not talking about the dumplings. Unless "dumpling" is your pet term for the ladies crowding the bar most nights at China Grill, decked in their shiniest frippery and pointiest heels. They've gravitated here since the day mega-restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow threw open the doors of his first Fort Lauderdale pan-Asian eatery: skittering from bar to table holding saketinis aloft, clustering and giggling in a blur of silver bubble skirts and day-glo halter-tops, crossing and recrossing their brown, unblemished gams. And although they may have been paid party girls in the early days, set out like bait to attract bigger fish with fatter wallets, they appear now without prompting from sorority house, law office, and modeling job — one reason at least as delicious as any shrimp cake or potsticker for the rest of us to show up too.

El Rey De Pescado

South Florida is among the most culturally diverse pieces of land on the North American continent. It's food that brings cultures together here, and it happens regularly at El Rey de Pescado — a place that looks, smells, and sounds like a Third World food market in the very best way. In the middle of the produce tent at Fort Lauderdale's Swap Shop is El Rey and a pictorial menu that demonstrates the amazing things the kitchen can do with Caribbean seafood. A whole, fried snapper or tilapia comes out full of meat, juice, and crackle, served atop rice and garnished with a heap of lime wedges. A pile of limes also accompanies a ludicrously proportioned heap of calamari lightly fried and almost tender enough to fall apart in your mouth. Grab a beer — a Mexican brew, most likely — out of a big ice-filled tub in front and drink it at a plastic table waiting for your food and surrounded by everything that makes Florida, Florida: sunshine, the babble of languages, the smells of the ocean, and a Latin pulse sounding from an unseen boombox.

Cafe Martorano
Cafe Martorano

Movie pitch: Based on a true story. In a tropical American city long known as party central for spring breakers, the population begins to suffer disturbing nightmares. As neighbors compare notes, they're stunned to learn that their midnight visions are identical — they dream they're chasing a gigantic meatball along Oakland Park Boulevard. As days pass, the citizens are overcome with inexplicable cravings: for South Philly-style cheese steaks; for spaghettini with clams, pancetta and chilies; for chicken cutlets with hot and sweet peppers; for spicy chicken wings with upscale macaroni and cheese. As the film progresses, it is revealed that the city has succumbed to a mass trance called "The Martorano Effect," the symptoms of which include wild dancing, excessive consumption of Prosecco, and the inability to speak anything but quotations from Goodfellas. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Moonstruck. Lorraine Bracco, Joe Gannascoli, and Ludacris have already expressed interest.

Cafe Boulud

One of the great misconceptions about Café Boulud is that you can't afford it. And that's a shame, because eating here makes you proud to be a Floridian. It's not enough to book your birthday every year — the pleasure in Executive Chef Zach Bell's collaboration with Daniel Boulud derives from the menu's month-to-month fluctuations, from the flavors of produce grown on our soil and seafood plucked from our own waters, cooked by a homegrown chef who grew up in Clermont. So go for breakfast or the $25 prix-fixe lunch, for the deals on Saturday and Sunday brunch ($32 for three courses), for the pre-theater menu ($45 for three courses), or for Saturday's late-night bites of house-cured charcuterie and gourmet burgers. And go often. As the seasons pass, you'll feast on short-rib ravioli with a crushed tomato and basil compote sourced from Swank Farms in Loxahatchee; a Peekytoe crab basking in the sunny flavors of hearts of palm and pickled pineapple; sautéed sea scallops with spring ramps, fiddlehead ferns, nettles, and forest mushrooms. Those ramps and nettles might not come from around here, but they're priceless natural resources in the hands of our homeboy.

Best Restaurant to Close in the Past 12 Months

Capri Blu

Capri Blu Ristorante Italiano

Amadeo and Gracie Tasca kept their balance aboard the pitching vessel of downtown West Palm Beach while their contemporaries piled into lifeboats and fled. They kept it up for ten years, sending out plate after plate of handmade pasta, of sauces made from tomatoes they handpicked themselves on local farms, of ethereal tiramisu and imported bronzino. They invited tenors and sopranos to sing arias for their customers on Monday nights, and a coterie of artistic souls gravitated to Capri Blu on the force of their generosity. Roads were torn up, the boom-and-bust cycles downtown became depressingly predictable, but the Tascas kept accumulating devoted customers. And finally, when construction on the new City Hall directly across the street showered them in dust and chunks of rebar, they quietly closed and moved across the bridge to Palm Beach. Early this year, a bad economy swallowed the last mouthful of their gumption. We'll miss them.

Casa D'Angelo
Courtesy of Casa D'Angelo

The third date is the tiebreaker; if you flub this one, you're gonna find yourself back at the laptop flipping through JDate listings. The long-running and beloved Casa D'Angelo can help get you over the hump, if you'll pardon the pun — they've been cementing together fragile relationships with a mixture of ricotta cheese and marinara sauce for more than a decade now, and they know what they're doing. Casa D'Angelo's 40-plus-page wine list of regional Italian varietals will help you subtly showcase your sophistication (it's on their website, so you can prepare in advance); the breezy outdoor patio is quiet enough for intimate conversation; the courtly waiters, who serve with a friendly flourish, contribute to an atmosphere of relaxed luxury. And then there's the food: beautiful handmade pastas floating in rosy cream sauces; chops perfectly grilled and emanating the scent of rosemary; bronzino so fresh that it needs little beyond a sprinkling of capers and a bit of lemon reduction. Take a hint from that bronzino and don't overdo it — in love, as in cooking, a modest hand with the sauce lets your ingredients shine.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Morimoto

Morimoto

The only bad news about Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's opening a sushi bar inside the beautiful Boca Raton Resort & Club is that you can't actually get in. Correction: You can get in, provided you are (A) a resort member, (B) a paying guest at the hotel, or (C) someone with wealthy and influential friends. Since options A and B are going to set you back a couple of Benjamins, your best bet is to latch onto the coattails of some philanthropic Boca bourgeois and weasel your sushi-craving, proletariat arse in. While there, why not let your friend pick up the tab too? The prices are as hefty as the entry fee, mostly because the fish at Morimoto's tiny bar is of a quality unparalleled in these parts, flown in multiple times a week from sources scattered across the globe. Uni from the California coast glistens with the life-giving power of the ocean; Japanese fish that rarely find their way to an American table like kinmedai and kohada are here en masse; ruby chunks of beautiful maguro tuna and melting cuts of marbled o-toro are cut from the prime stock of Boston and the Mediterranean. All of it is absurdly delicious and definitely worth every penny your wealthy benefactor is willing to throw at it.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of